Tonight, the Antagony & Ecstasy James Bond Marathon & Retrospective begins in earnest (the 1954 television Casino Royale being more of an amuse bouche than a real James Bond picture). And before that starts, I would like to take a moment to explain what’s going to happen.
Here’s the issue: after the third film – the fourth, if we want to be exceedingly generous – the Bond franchise had become so beholden to formula that if I were to attempt to write just a straight-up review of the films, week after week, we would run the risk of you, my readers, becoming bored. More importantly, I’m absolutely positive that I would get bored.
So instead, the Bond reviews for the next six months are going to take the form a catalogue, if that’s the word, scoring the movies not according to how good they are as films, but how good they are as Bond films, in several different areas prescribed by the Eon Bond movie formula.
These areas will be as follows:
In almost every case but the first movie, the first thing we see is Bond fighting in some exciting setpiece that ends up having little or nothing to do with the rest of the movie. This event sets up the mood, gets us warmed up for the adventure to follow, and more than once has been the best part of the entire picture.
The degree to which the pre-title sequence gets one worked up and enthusiastic will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Union Jack Parachutes
Almost as iconic as the spy himself is the music that accompanies him on his adventures, of which nothing matters more than the song underneath the opening credits. Some of these are classic songs completely independent of the film they accompany; some of them are “All Time High”. “All Time What”? Exactly.
The sonic intensity of the title song will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Shirley Basseys
Just as important as the song is the imagery underneath it: mostly created by the legendary Maurice Binder, the best of them are practically short films that can be enjoyed completely independent of the feature.
The visual ingenuity of the title sequence will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Silhouetted Women
Invariably, Bond must save the entire Western world from some terrifying plan that will destroy everything and everyone. But these plots run the gamut from the serious to the absurd, from threatening to laughable
The quality of the plot that Bond must stop will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Stolen Nukes
Just as those plots are generally larger than life and exotic, the men (it’s virtually always a man) who concoct them are themselves bold cartoon characters, some of them captivating and fascinating in their operatic villainy, some of them are just dumb and overly gimmick, like a third-string comic book baddie.
The colorful menace of the Bondian supervillains will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Evil Cats
Let us not mince words: the Bond films are vigorously heterosexual. That primarily includes Bond’s legendary track record bedding gorgeous women. These range from daft floozies to brilliant soldiers and intellectuals.
The physically beauty and depth of character (such as it is) of the Bond Girls will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 White Bikinis
Many, though not all, of Bond’s adversaries are assisted by a thuggish second-in-command even more colorful and ridiculous. Some of these are still more of a genuine threat to Agent 007 than the actual villain. Some of these are barely good enough for target practice.
The threat presented by the henchmen, and the peculiar flourishes of the presentations, will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Metal-Plated Teeth
THE SECONDARY GIRL WHO ENDS UP DEAD
Most of the time, before he meets his actual sexual conquest for the movie, Bond will bed a somewhat less beautiful but still pretty damn hot young woman who is thereafter targeted by the villain as way of sending a message to Bond.
The value presented to the story by the secondary girl who ends up dead, beyond the fact that she ends up dead, will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Golden Corpses
Some of Bond’s escapades are legendary masterpiece of stunt choreography, editing, and scale, among the best action sequence in cinema. Many of them are not that at all. Depends a lot on who was playing Bond, and how much money they had left in the budget that day.
The thrills and consequence-free violence of the action will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Walther PPKs
One of the essential scenes in any Bond adventure is when he meets with the irascible Q and gets his cache of bizarre new weapons for this trip into unknown dangers, though given how every single one of them is used exactly one time, for a purpose that nothing else could duplicate, it would seem that Q took a peek at the screenplay before designing them. These can be as simple and elegant as a tube that lets you breath underwater, or they can be an invisible car.
The creativity and applicability of Bond’s gadgets will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Easily-Riled Welshmen
THE FIENDISH LAIR (and other sets)
No Bond villain with any self-respect would live anywhere besides one of the impossible spaces conceived by the master production designer Ken Adam and his successors. The locations in a good Bond film are like the panels in a really well-designed comic book: unrealistic in a way that makes you absolutely believe in every inch of it.
The spectacle and visual grandeur of the sets will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Volcano Fortresses
ELEGANT LIFESTYLE PORN
One of the most noteworthy things the movies changed from the books was in making Bond the next best thing to a GQ cover model, wearing the best clothes, drinking the best alcohol, and driving the best cars. And this, more than anything else, is what keys us in to the reality that the Bond films are ultimately neither action nor spy thrillers; they are fantasies.
The desirability of Bond’s bon vivant lifestyle in any given picture will be rated on a scale of:
1-5 Vodka Martinis
APPEARANCE OF “BOND. JAMES BOND.”
Agent 007 doesn’t just introduce himself, he announces himself: “Bond. James Bond.” It is the obligatory line in every film, even more important than “Vodka martini, shaken, not stirred”. As such, some screenwriters have to work harder to make sure it gets there than others. In each case, I will use my best judgment to decide whether the line’s appearance is forced, or if it makes Bond sound like an ice-cold badass.
Self-explanatory. Bond is a witty man, and says many cutting things to the people he kills or sleeps with, and I will offer my pick for the best.
The “review” part of the review: a quick attempt to synthesise all of the above into a unified opinion, as well as make note of anything else that didn’t fit. Looking for my thoughts on each of the six actors to play Bond? This is where you’ll find it.
With twelve categories worth 1-5 points each, a film can theoretically hit anywhere from 12-60 points; some of the films do not fit into every category, and will therefore have both a score given both as a fraction of their own potential high, as well as the equivalent score out of 60, e.g. 42/50 = 84% = 50.4/60. I do this largely for myself, because I am crazy damn anal retentive.